On this festival of Christ the King, at the climax of the Christian year, the reading for Evening Prayer is the very last part of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission: to go to all the world, baptising and teaching Jesus’ commands.
We too are sent out to spread the Good News including in Second Life. It’s exciting to be part of this Anglican community in SL, people from all over the world and of all different Christian traditions, learning and growing together.
The message I preached at 12pm SL on Sunday 23rd November is here:
When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he was told that the child to be born to Mary, his betrothed, would be called Jesus meaning ‘Saviour’ and Emmanuel, ‘God with us’. After that auspicious start, things seemed to go downhill. Jesus was born in a stable rather than a comfortable house. Very soon he became a refugee in Egypt with his parents as Herod sought to snuff out this new life. He lived as a normal Jewish boy and grew up to learn a trade. He travelled as an itinerant rabbi, teaching and healing, loved by the people and hated by most of the leaders. He died the death of a common criminal after a show trial and was buried in a borrowed tomb. For so much of his earthly life, the glory of Jesus was hidden. But today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, the story reaches its climax.
What Herod feared all those years ago is now revealed – Christ is King. He addresses his disciples with a final message. He tells them that he has authority, all authority in fact, in heaven and earth. All the devil could offer him at his temptation was the nations of the world but now Jesus, having lived a life pleasing to God, and having died and risen, has all the devil could offer and more, conferred on him by God.
In the light of his authority, Jesus gives the disciples their instructions. They are to go and make disciples in all the nations of the world. During Jesus’ lifetime the disciples had been sent out to the Jews only but now their mission is to the whole world. Jesus is Lord of every nation and died for every person. All people should have a right to hear about him and an opportunity to choose to follow him. The new disciples are to be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to be taught to live in obedience to Jesus’ commands.
Whatever the doubts that some of the disciples harboured at that final meeting, they seem to have overcome them and done as they were commanded to. They didn’t work alone – the Holy Spirit came to empower them in their task and they began to take the world by storm. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, 3000 people believed through their message. The apostles (literally ‘ones sent away) were transformed from a frightened little band of men and women to a bold group of evangelists.
As they were persecuted, they moved from Jerusalem to other areas, preaching as they went. Peter preached in Rome and John in the province of Asia. Mark helped found a church in Alexandria and Thaddeus the church in Edessa. Thomas is believed to have got as far as India. Later on, Paul travelled extensively, determined to be all things to all people, and so spreading the Good News to people of all creeds. In just 30 years the message had reached all of the eastern part of the Roman Empire and probably beyond, as well as reaching as far west as Rome.
By the middle of the second century churches existed in nearly all the provinces between Syria and Rome. There were probably churches as far away as Gaul, which is present day France. Another century on and there were Christians in virtually every province of the Empire and in some eastern countries.
Some idea of just what impact Christians made on their world can be gleaned from an anonymous letter to Diognetus, possibly dating from the second century. This is an extract:
“For Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, language or customs; you see they do not live in cities of their own, or speak some strange dialect, or have some peculiar lifestyle.
This teaching of theirs has not been contrived by the invention and speculation of inquisitive men; nor are they propagating mere human teaching as some people do. They live in both Greek and foreign cities, wherever chance has put them. They follow local customs in clothing, food and the other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the wonderful and certainly unusual form of their own citizenship.
They live in their own native lands, but as aliens; as citizens, they share all things with others; but like aliens, suffer all things. Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country.
They marry and have children just like everyone else; but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table, but not a shared bed. They are at present ‘in the flesh’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh’. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the appointed laws, and go beyond the laws in their own lives.
They love everyone, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and gain life. They are poor and yet make many rich. They are short of everything and yet have plenty of all things. They are dishonoured and yet gain glory through dishonour.
Their names are blackened and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens, and are persecuted by Greeks; yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility.
To put it simply – the soul is to the body as Christians are to the world. The soul is spread through all parts of the body and Christians through all the cities of the world. The soul is in the body but is not of the body; Christians are in the world but not of the world.”
Of course the spread of Christianity didn’t stop after those early centuries. Jesus had sent his apostles to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Each generation has gone to the ends of the earth as they knew it carrying the Gospel. In the same way that the Jews who heard the message from Peter on the day of Pentecost no doubt spread the word when they returned to their homes, pioneers heading to new lands such as America, took their faith with them and shared it. Missionaries went to Africa and China and all over the world teaching and baptising as Jesus had commanded. They took risks in doing so and many perished in the attempt. People like Hudson Taylor, who chose to wear his hair like the Chinese, were prepared to fully identify with the people they lived with. This is very much like those early Christians described in the letter to Diognetus and like Paul who was prepared to be all things to all people. As Susan Hope says in ‘Mission-shaped Spirituality’: “The very ‘sentness’ of mission implies some kind of traversing boundaries, a departure from the safe and the knowable, that will possibly involve a challenge to the core identity of the one who is sent.”
As we are disciples of Jesus, his command is to us as much as to those first disciples. All who call Jesus ‘Lord’ are commanded to ‘Go’ and make disciples wherever we can. Jesus didn’t give us an option, he gave us a command. Evangelism may not be our main gift but we all have gifts and we are to use them to spread the word.
We know that Christianity has been taken at some time to all the countries of the world. There are still more and more people to reach in those countries and Christians continue to travel and to teach and baptise. But now the ‘ends of the earth’ includes something more – not an undiscovered island somewhere, but the world of Second Life. The Gospel needs to be carried here too and shared with its citizens. For those of us who belong to this Cathedral, we can ‘go’ simply by heading for a computer, at home or at work. We can reach people wherever they are, whatever their circumstances by using technology to connect with those who spend time in Second Life. Of course, we are still empowered by the Holy Spirit in this mission, just as the earliest apostles were.
To quote Susan Hope again: ‘There is a glorious buoyancy about a community charged with the energy of the Spirit, and this active buoyancy provides a compelling context for the true hearing of the gospel. For the gospel of acceptance can be truly heard when it is enfleshed in a body of people who are beginning to learn how to accept and welcome each other, warts and all. The gospel of forgiveness can be truly heard when it is understood in a group of people who are learning to forgive. The good news that I can ‘be myself’ can be most particularly heard when I meet a group of people who are learning how to live without masks. And the disturbing ethics of the kingdom can only be begun to be practised, it can only be done, when done together.’ We can offer this chance to truly hear and live the gospel to the people behind the avatars in Second Life.
If you look on our blog you will see that our vision is to see God glorified in Second Life.
:- to see Christians from different countries and theological persuasions come together to serve and worship the Lord.
:- to see the Anglican Church engage in relevant, meaningful and contemporary ways with the society around it.
:- to offer those involved in Second Life an experience of a God who deeply loves them and seeks a relationship with them.
:- to be a community who are known for their love and care, and their preparedness to serve others.
As we seek to fulfil our vision as Anglicans here in Second Life we are obeying the Great Commission. Like the first apostles, we cannot conceive of what will be the result of our efforts. Just think what those first apostles achieved in only 30 years. Things move so much faster online – in the next couple of years anything might happen. It’s exciting stuff to be part of. We don’t know what difficulties we will face in the future either but we have Jesus’ promise: ‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ As announced by the angel, Jesus is still Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.